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EPA Head Whitman is Absolved, but WTC Victims' Health is Unresolved

April 24, 2008

New York - A federal court ruled Wednesday that former Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman is not personally liable for having said the air was safe to breathe after the World Trade Center attacks, despite internal EPA reports to the contrary. Whitman says she "acted reasonably to protect the public," but the ruling is drawing some criticism.

Gwen O'Shea with the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island says some chaos was understandable, but accountability is also important.

"We put people in such positions of 'protecting' folks, and when they don't do that in an adequate way, we let them off the hook. So now we have thousands, if not millions, of folks tremendously negatively impacted by the environment, and there will be no legal ramifications because of the fact that we put people in this position."

New York Representative Jerrold Nadler says excusing the White House-coordinated safety announcements is a bad precedent that makes it too easy for such dangerous misinformation to be made public again.

The Health and Welfare Council of Long Island and other groups are assisting as many as 200,000 people in New York State harmed by the toxins and gases in the smoke from the burning Trade Center on September 11, 2001, including first responders.

O'Shea says those victims are no longer getting help from government agencies.

"Even more so as time passes, folks that tried to build the road to recovery are not able to do so because of the negative health implications that being at the site has had on them. So, we're seeing folks with extremely exacerbated health conditions, and there are no safety-net programs available to them any longer."

Although many federal and local assistance programs have expired, O'Shea says her agency and other private groups are still providing medical and financial aid for people who responded to the attacks or helped in the recovery of victims.

"They've exhausted all other resources that they might have had. They might be months behind in their rental payments, and they can't get by. So, we're helping people cover their emergency needs, as well as create a plan for the future, and providing some financial assistance to help them accomplish that plan."

In addition to the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, New York Disaster Interfaith Services and the Unmet Needs Roundtable are also continuing to help victims and first responders.

Robert Knight/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - NY